May 14, 2010

Jumping Bean: Fresh New Beans

Circa 2007. My friend Nokcha (Aier) and I were yakking away unstoppably on hyper-mode on Facebook chat. Somehow we got around to actually chatting about some pretty serious stuff like life, Save-the-Whales and our normal the-world-is-full-of-pain thing. Then she goes “but we’re working on something right now; it’s about music and stuff and coffee…” and dash dash dash. I was like ‘Wow, that’s awesome! Now when are you going to go out with me on a date?’

In November 2008, in big, bad, hot and sticky Dimapur, a café with the cutest, cuddliest name ever in the Baby Donald Duck dictionary came into being: Jumping Bean.

Since then, things have been more than jumping – more of rodeo I’d say – for Jumping Bean. And her owners are eating miles by the week (I prefer referring to Jumping Bean with a ‘her’ than an ‘it’. ‘He’? You’re major nuts). Jumping Bean’s two gorgeous proprietors Sarah Pongen and Nokcha Aier are probably two of the most harried best friends on the circuit.

Jumping Bean came into being on November 25, 2008 with big promises and even bigger dreams of turning Dimapur’s ho-hum music and food scene into some sort of a bucking howler. Two years running, JB’s grown into this big, gorgeous and hardworking girl now: From week-one, she’s been housing live gigs, bands and soloists, local and national outfits at least twice every month, to good response. But the start was a little tottery.

Freakingly Bad Hangovers

Sigh, memories with a girl (Jumping Bean, you dingbat) you have been with long, can be major heavy thing. I still recall a not-so-wonderful news report a local newspaper in Nagaland published about on Jumping Bean’s launch: “…the café also serves alcohol, cocktails…” Finish. Kaput. Poof. Goner.

When I recall this goof-up the newspaper made, I get angry. Technical mistakes, grammatical errors and bad English will always be a synonym for Indian print Media but one thing so unforgivable is reckless, negligent, false and capricious reporting. The false report nearly killed Jumping Bean at birth. I still remember a much blanked-and-dazed Sarah on the phone, the afternoon the report was published. You could see that the report had completely pulverized her beauty to glory. Oh, that poor, poor thing (BigHugs*).
But thank God, notwithstanding the almost expensive goof-up, little JB’s come so far today. Alright, am I a proud “uncle” or something. Whateva.   

Clarifications and rejoinders made, the matter fizzled out faster that a busy fart.


Jumping Bean is today probably the most happening music hangout in Dimapur. Of course, there are thousands of others, but one brownie point you cannot take away from Jumping Bean: she was the first café in Dimapur to commit its entire platform to all and any musician or artist – for free. And for those of you yet to step yer dainty toes into the café, here are some info: Check out the café’s Friday Acoustic theme nights. Friday Night Live is held every second Friday of the month. The night will have you listening to special guest bands from India and the north-east states performing at the café. I have lost track of the number of bands HB has hosted – but lemme tell ya, them performers are no armatures.

The Big Chomp

I’ll be honest with you here. I am no foodie and there has yet to be anything from Jumping Bean found its way into my mouth save coffee, lemonade and your omnipresent Cha-ha (Tea, dingbat). The reasons? There has yet to be a time for food for all darned causes – my interaction has been limited to rush-yer-nuts-to-JB-fast-fast for news reports. Café food is luxury for journalists, man.

So for obvious reasons here are my only takes on JB’s food: JB’s chomp department is manned by another of Jumping Bean’s eye-poppers Asen Aier, Nokcha’s younger sister. The coffee is good but give me good ole’ cha-ha any time. The lemonade is well, I dunno. My experience with lemon and its juices is limited – just about 2 glasses over the past 20 years.

Short take on the ‘Long’

But I liked this something-strangely-called “Short Bread” Asen offered me. The cookie thing looked suspicious, initially. I sniffed it; poked it left and right; cajoled it; weighted and made sure the “Short Bread” was truly dead before I decided on chomping it. I’m uncertain if bread ought to be ‘long’ or ‘short’ but with ‘short bread’ I’ll go the distance. And oh, for your General Knowledge, Asen’s ‘Short Bread’ is actually a biscuit.

So there, I don’t know about JB’s food so you gotta hunt down her patrons for a recipe or two. 

Jumping Bean is today a busy café. It is running successfully. But I will rephrase another of JB’s, well – you got it – lovely little things, Asu Aier (I’ve never met her actually). Asu explained about the café: ‘Given the many problems they have faced in running a business in Nagaland, (Jumping Bean) has managed to maintain its quality in the business and promises to hold onto it.’

I believe you Asu, I believe you. Interacting with hundreds of youngsters and readers over the internet everyday, I know what they say about Jumping Bean. Here’s to the café and her wonderful, beautiful people.

And oh yes, cough…cough…Nokcha has still yet to say that Yes thing; I’m still trying; I’m still trying.

(You may want to read the News variety, Jumping Bean's PowerCafe Girls, I wrote on Jumping Bean’s Nokcha Aier and Sarah Pongen and published in the December 12, 2008 edition of The Morung Express.

Here are the blog updates on MetalStone: American Progressive/Technical Metal group Watchtower.
Album review of Watchtower's Control and Resistance (1989), album review of the first proper Progressive Metal album Watchtower's Energetic Disassembly (1985)

Laughing with Petra’s John Schlitt

(This blog, originally published in United Colors of Nagaland’ is the interaction and interview the writer had with John Schlitt, singer and front-man of seminal Christian rock group Petra. The CCRM star was in Dimapur, Nagaland the summer of 2008 for a show with Stone Java, a side project of Schlitt.)

If you have never heard of John (William) Schlitt (or, Petra) you are most probably a freaky sun-burnt, Bangladeshi illegal immigrant. I hope to high heavens that the Ao Students’ Conference or the Angami Students’ Union would capture you one fine sunny day and straight away pack you off to Godknowswhere.

For all you spike-haired three-chord Limp Bizzing late-comers, Petra is to Christian music what Metallica is to the metal world. And basically, John Schlitt has pretty much been at the front of the entire Christian music push – all the way to that snob-nosed Grammy.

Beyond My Belief

The first time I heard of “Beyond Belief” (Petra’s 1990 magnum opus) was as a tiny, round, dirty school kid, with my unhinged half-pants permanently hanging down 190 degree south, and pretty much obsessed with wiping my nose with a convenient swipe of my tongue. But the motivation just seemed too compelling when years later my brother Joe gifted me with Petra’s smash 1987 ‘This Means war’ album. So there on, my musical adventures during school and college would never be complete without a “Creed” or a “Beyond Belief” or just about any of the 30-40 of them Petra chart biggies. Come on I still boast of the biggest Petra music collection, and others as well, among my metal peers (Ahem! Ahem! Cough! Cough!). Anyhow, during my formative years in my mind Petra, Bloodgood and Stryper were the ultimate, who’d just down right snubbed those mainstream poppies and rockers to the Grammys.

Decades later, May 14, 2008, I’m with my Idol. Here’s this tall, pale, blond and handsome guy so full of music and Jesus, asking me what my name meant and go “Hey ‘Al’ sounds so Texan!” and laugh like he was your best beer buddy. Of course, nothing like having Louie Weaver or Bob Hartman in the living room if Petra was still around. The band disbanded in 2007. But hey who’s complaining, with nothing to complain.

Trust me, it took all of my hybrid Naga pedigree to pretend I wasn’t at all affected by my childhood idol right by me, alone, alive and chatting like two hoary, drunk school mates. Man, it was amazing – see? I told you journalism has all the right perks.

Idol Bantering with John

He was all blond, shoulder-length hair, pale and lots of cool. Nonetheless, our unique Dimapur heat dented his composure a bit, I observed. He was in this white Tee, a Bermuda and these really hi-fi Godzilla looking pair of runners decorating his feet. Well, enough rock starts are like this? I really tried not to faint at the whole vibe. He’s monumentally cool.

And John was gracious. And very, very humble. When I entered the living room he was like “Hi, I am John” and I was like “yeah, sure, John, I know you ever since I was born.” There was none of that hey-baby-I-am-million-selling-grammy-winning-and-Christian-music’s-biggest-superstar thing. We shared the laugh and he was incredulous “you mean you know me since you were born!?” And I was thinking like “Basically, and I messed up my pitch doing ‘Creed’ during a college concert years ago.”

One of my colleagues, Merina, informed him that I was one of his biggest fans and in all probability I’d straight away blank out in unbridled throes of star-struck stuff. John was like “Really?” And mind you, he was genuinely surprised. And I was like “Yeah, I am a huge fan, John. But I’m not gonna be star-struck by you because I have changed my musical tastes.” We shared a good bout of laughter. That guy’s amazing, mind you. There was no air about him, no sermon, no-save-the-world-save-the-forest thing and no superstar smorgasbord. He was an amazing guy, people. No wonder, someone said ‘a truly great man is the humblest of creatures.’ I want to be like him. And I shall be.

So whatabout Nagaland, dude?

So how do you like Nagaland? “Nagaland? This place is so cool and we are just having a ball, we are having a ball, it’s amazing!” he gushed. And as a natural curiosity so natural for us to query people from abroad, who visit us, I was tempted to ask John “have you gotten a taste of Akhuni, Anishi or Bastenga” or something in that nature. Of course, the poor guy would have been stumped for response even if he dare tasted one of our smelly dishes. Out of political correctness, he most probably would have replied ‘yes, they tested interesting’!’ if at all he’d tasted our tasty nose-killers. Thankfully, I could muster no courage for such questions over the said matter.

We talked about a lot of things, his faith, music, and the motivation behind his stint as a harbinger of Jesus Christ’s message and of course, his Petra days. “I don’t want to be considered Petra number 2” he confided, obviously disturbed at the regular confusion fans have between him and the legendary Christian rock band. “I’m not here to preach but to say, hey, it’s cool and Christ is cool!” Man, that guy’s sure is modest considering he and Petra are considered the undisputed pioneers, and one of the terribly few Christian rock bands to be accepted by mainstream, secular market. (The others are Stryper and Bloodgood). You see, my darling reader, John Schlitt’s the man who fronted a band with whom 4 Grammys, 10 Doves among other awards, and then induction into the Hard Rock Café and Gospel Hall of Fame were had. And trust me, I won’t mention the Gold and Platinum albums that went with the entire gamut.

Apart from his Petra feathers, John has under his illustrious belt two successful solo albums 1995’s Shake (with that unforgettable and cover bands’ favorite Inside of You and heady ‘Wake the Dead’), 1996’s Unfit for Swine (Which Naga band has not done ‘There is Someone’?) and his latest The Grafting is out. So be ready for another dose.

After our chat, it was time to go have some chow.
“Would you be there for the show (Dimapur concert), Al?” he queried. I responded, “Why OF COURSE, I’ll be there big time!” I love journalism.

May 13, 2010

Sweet Cup of Careership: The PowerCafe Girls

(This ‘blog’ was originally published in the December 12, 2008 edition of The Morung Express as a News Feature, by Al Ngullie)

Go get a clean cup, a cleaner spoon and consider this gourmand formula: drown a spoonful of social statement that has little patience for the inevitable consequences of arrested development; then, add a pinch of business smart; for taste, add half-a-spoon of social-consciousness and finally, add a sprinkle of active effort and imagination for flavor. What do you get? Jumping Bean…

Barely a month-old baby, Jumping Bean is already your foodie version of the hyperactive 12 year old. Theme nights (check out their retro nights – but the spandexes and pink lipsticks are truly terrifying for the fashion-illiterate male); performances from nationally known rock groups like the recent Tuesday night where Medusa performed. And plans are actively afoot to activate the children’s book and reading club.

PowerCafe Girls

If you happen to visit their cafe at Khermahal in Dimapur, the two lovelies Sarah Pongen and Nokcha Aier most possibly would distract you dizzy from the all-important ingredients. With two young and pretty businesswomen tending to your coffee in a café that has a name cuter and cuddlier than your sister’s youngest daughter, you’re in monumental danger of overlooking the toil and the purpose that went in your cup.

The duo has this modest estimation: “Jumping Bean cafe's main objective is to create a place full of activities that’s fun and entertaining for all age groups and we hope to maintain that for as long as the business runs”. They explained a desire to take up “some sort of business” together. And to boot, being best friends was an added advantage for Nokcha and Sarah. So they jumped the idea of launching Jumping Bean to cater to the hungry stressed souls only a noisy, ill-tempered and fickle urban jungle like Dimapur city could offer.

“We were sort of disappointed that Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland, didn't have any nice place where friends could meet up or just hang out. It was even more annoying when our friends from outside Nagaland would visit us and we couldn't take them to such places” the duo explained as a matter-of-fact. .

For Sarah and Nokcha, the most frustrating aspect of the entire gamut was watching their little cousin brothers and sisters get wasted in boredom and their turning to other unhealthy activities just so to ‘keep themselves engaged’.

“That’s when we suddenly thought why don’t the two of us try and do something about it even if it’s on a very small scale, hopefully many others will pick up on the trend and follow suit” they explained. That’s where each of the two secured a loan and went for the prize “knowing the risks that might be involved; and we're glad we did”.

That’s exactly where the headaches activated their war drums for the two first-time-but-determined businesswomen. Neither of the two has ever been in the service industry and so basically had to start somewhere by using their experiences from the travels they had undertaken. Also, they informed, constructing and designing café from scratch was a colossal challenge. Nonetheless, friends and families stuck out their hand in assistance and support.

“I don’t think we could have achieved what we had in mind. But we have learned immensely through this entire experience and hence we are extremely glad time and again that we decided to go ahead with this idea” the duo explained.

You could have called your café “Chai Paani Corner” or something locally strange, no? “As for the name, we wanted something that symbolized what our cafe would be all about” the two entrepreneurs explained. The two young entrepreneurs added: “We wanted it to be fun and approachable but at the same time one would know it was a cafe where people can do what they normally do in cafe's – hang out with friends and catch up over a cup of coffee. Hence the name Jumping Bean Café: ‘Jumping’ for something that’s full of activity and jumping for joy and ‘Bean’ for the coffee beans.”

On the flavor of unemployment

Apart from the stated objective to offering a calming facility for citizens to ponder away the quite minutes, Jumping Bean is as much a testimony of ‘making a difference’ as it is a personal reaffirmation that there is way in the face of will.

To a query if they have ambitions for the civil services – like a good several Lakhs of Naga youths have – Sarah and Nokcha aren’t exactly your anti-NPSC lobbyists. But they aren’t receptionists of the proverbial Devil’s workshop either. “It is every parent’s dream to send their children for the state civil services and we admit that it has crossed our minds in the past due to the constant topic that’s about on every Naga’s lips they say.

Nokcha, a Livingstone Higher Secondary School and Shillong’s St. Edmund’s alumnus has given a shot at the civil services and part of it. But Sarah “has always been against trying for it”, for the reason that her interest still hugged the private sector. No wonder she has qualifications in retail, marketing and arts management.

Personally, what are your opinions on the issue of unemployment: “We feel that one of the main reasons why unemployment is so prominent in Nagaland and perhaps the northeastern states of India is because of the immense pressure and craze that most people have for the civil services. The government can only provide a limited amount of position in its office as compared to the millions of people applying for it” the two best friends opined.

But it is unfortunate that most Naga youths still perceive the civil services as the only career option: “Most bank on it alone hence wasting their precious primetime youth away while all the good jobs get taken by other people their age across the country. It would have been ok to pursue it if only an alternate arrangement or option was at hand while doing so. But people in the northeast tend to take it as their only career option which is really sad” Nokcha and Sarah explained in clear terms.

Another reason, they said, is Nagaland being a developing state compared to the rest of the country; job opportunities are scarce in the private sector. However, the two explained, all that is changing with many multi-national companies entering the state. They, have a word of caution, however: “But in order to make use of these opportunities parents need to encourage their children to work part time on vacations and become self sufficient in whatever way they can”.

“We in Jumping Bean Cafe are trying to encourage that with the youngsters in the state through part time jobs and gaining experience through it so that they are in par with other major cities when they head out of Nagaland to pursue higher degrees” the entrepreneurs explained.

More plans and bigger dreams are cooking for the two. Notwithstanding the struggle and difficulties they encountered on way to making the Jumping Bean dream, they have no regrets at all. Yes, none at all. It has been a cup of tea, not easy, but because they look to the future.

Here’s to Jumping Bean.

May 6, 2010

Bobby Cash: The Cowboy from India

For a man — from the land of ear-blistering Bhangra and soulful Ghazals — boasting of three full length albums, a clutch of best-selling singles on international charts and a documentary on him by Discovery Channel, it’s no big deal really – unless you happen to be an Indian, from India (yes, India). And a ‘cowboy’ (yes, a ‘cowboy’). And warbling not Bhangra, but, yes, crooning country songs (yes, you heard it right again – country songs).

Cowboys and Indians are stuff every boy’s dream of the ultimate adventure is made of. But Bobby Cash is one cowboy any Indian would do the-what-jump at, in surprise. The ‘What Would You Do’ and ‘Tumbleweed’ hit-maker is in Dimapur. Country Music Association’s (CMA) Global Artiste nominee for 2005, Bobby Cash, will be playing at Niathu Resort to a select evening. The Stetson-hatted man interacted with The Morung Express tonight in Dimapur before his scheduled April 17 show at Niathu Resort.

The first ride

‘I started performing at “The Rodeo” in Delhi and slowly build up a following. I learned quite a lot during that Delhi phase,” Bobby said. Bobby Cash saw his childhood in NE India. Said to have been born to a family of royal lineage Bal Kishore Das Loiwal became ‘Bobby’ from his father calling him “Babu.” And from where did the ‘cash’ flow in? Well, ‘Kishore’ turned into ‘Kesh’ for his friends and family. And ‘Kesh’ gradually turned into ‘Cash.’ There, Bobby Cash.
His international career began when Australia’s Tamworth Music Festival invited him to perform at the biggie. Before long, he was playing to packed houses in Tamworth and for Bobby, an amazing journey began. Soon he was all over media, appearing on television and radio. He quickly became the subject of a documentary in 2003 by Discovery Channel. The Documentary was ‘One in a Billion: The Indian Cowboy.’

Bobby Cash is India’s one and only proper country music performer – add his international credentials to it. Often referred to in one breathe with Remo Fernandez and Gary Lawyer, Bobby is literally ‘one in a billion’ as described by music fans who are not really convinced of India’s credibility when it comes to country music. He showed them all.

‘Cowboy at Heart’ was released in 2003. ‘Cowboy at Heart’ included duets with Australian country music singers Smokey Dawson and Tania Kernaghan. Since then, he still is galloping across the globe with his trusty acoustic guitar. Bobby became the first Indian to enter the top 10 in the Australian country music charts.

Still Riding

‘I am always learning; learning and always hungry to grow to the next level,’ The 6’5’ something skyscraper said. The performer has no regrets in his life.
In fact, every moment has being special and the highest point in his life.’ He played the Indian National Anthem at Sidney for the Australia-India test tour in Sidney – ‘that was special.’ He was nominated for the CMA Global Artist award – ‘that was special.’ He has three hit singles on the country charts – ‘that was special.’ “I believe in excellence; if you watch a master at work, you know how his skill is,” Bobby said. The man must know – being an Indian, and receiving recognition in a genre of music identified only as the Americans’ won cultural legacy. ‘I have played in Texas and they know country music; it’s their music; you can’t fool them; you have to be good,’ he explained, to press his point that one must seek excellence in whatever he does.

In 2005 in Nashville, US, Bobby Cash was nominated in the Global Artist category by the CMA. Bobby got a standing ovation from the President of the CMA, Ed Benson, who called him the ‘real deal’ at the Global Artist Showcase on The Stage, Broadway. He has also appeared on WSM Midnite Jamboree and done a jig in Dallas, Fort Worth.

On a personal level, Bobby said hold his family above all priorities. Aside from music, he said to be involved in the church and the Holy Bible is his favorite book. Aside from country music? ‘Cricket!’ he confesses. “The best is still yet to come; everything I went through was a step forward,” the country singer said, referring to his future.

Bobby Cash has these words for those who are still trying: “All things are possible…don’t give up. If I can do it, anyone can.’ Here’s to the man.

Cowboy at Heart

Bob Marley's Saga and the Jumping Bean

A rousing and joyful chaos of music, dancing and jollity it was on Saturday, February 6, at Jumping Bean with a teeming mass of buoyant music lovers celebrating Bob Marley's 65th birth anniversary, for the first time in

Nagaland. Themed 'Stir it up' the Jumping Bean event was truly an energetic evening of thumbing reggae from two bands, Roots Reggae Band (Meghalaya) and Daniel & The Soul Rebels (Arunachal Pradesh). The two bands rode with the happy confusion of the gathered "rocking" youths by enlisting the services of the legacy of the man the music world calls the Rasta Man.

The evening's mass of humanity at the tribute concert was a colorful mingling of tourists from Argentina, converse-toting fabulous Goth girls and trouser-dragging hip-hop youths, punky kids and elegantly dressed women and their hefty husbands and of course the odd drunk singing his own special unique tunes at strange timings.

Daniel & The Soul Rebels

Daniel & The Soul Rebels took the opening gig for an already-filling-up Jumping Bean. The youth and music hangout is run by two young entrepreneurs Sarah Pongen and Nokcha Aier. Daniel and his soul comrades ran through a stimulating routine of Marley classics, rehashes, renditions of the iconic number Jhonny B Goode and of course, a Peter Josh or two. Reggae biggies such as 'Stir it up' certainly validated the evening's theme. Of course, the audience was the lead vocalist in almost all the classics that Daniel and his soulmates - 'Stir it up,' 'No women no cry' and even the odd 'Wild World' as sung according to Jimmy Cleff. Notwithstanding to the stumble-and-trip-over lyrics and in the process, mumble some other interesting lyric, the gathered fans gladly joined in the tribute. So did a number of foreign tourists. Americans and Argentineans.

From Argentina, Sebastian is a photographer, a juggler and a self-professed wanderer who has traveled the world in his quest for photography and music. Shrill with a remarkable

Latin American accent, Sebastian disclosed that he was in Dimapur with four other of his friends. Not accidentally, they are all reggae devotees - and what hoarse joy than to dance and enjoy the evening away with 'No woman, no cry.' Aside from instigating the café's patrons into having fun, Sebastian juggled a bit or two, much to the patrons' delight.

Roots Reggae Band

By the time Roots Reggae Band took the gig after Daniel and his group, the café was already filled and sparkling with gaiety and shouts of "Redemption Song!" (A Bob Marley classic). Of course, the band obliged the back-benchers' demand. And with other else too - 'No woman, no cry' and 'stir it up' included. During the Roots Reggae Band set, the gathered crowd was the lead vocalist in all the songs this time as well.